National champ enjoying his time at UNB playing high-level Canadian university hockey
He played four years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, won a President’s Cup league championship and quite nearly copped a league scoring title (he missed out by one point in 2016-17).
And just last weekend, he won a Canadian university hockey championship with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.
So it goes without saying Tyler Boland can speak of junior and intercollegiate hockey with a fair degree of insight.
“University hockey is a step above major junior,” Boland said this week, a few days after UNB beat the University of Alberta 4-2 Sunday for the national title. “It’s the best-kept secret in many respects.
“Major junior is obviously a top-tier league. Just look at all the NHL guys who came through the Q or the OHL or the WHL. But the skill level in Canadian university hockey really is incredible. And obviously, the physicality jumps another notch at this level because guys are older and that much bigger.
“I didn’t expect it to be as big a jump as it actually was coming out of junior.”
Boland, a 22-year-old from St. John’s and a graduate of the Maple Leafs major midget program, became the seventh from this province to win a Canadian university championship, joining Dustin Russell (St. Francis Xavier, 2004), Andrew White, Scott Brophy and Patrick O’Keefe (Saint Mary’s, 2010), Dan LaCosta (UNB, 2013) and Alex Wall (UNB, 2016).
On this year’s Varsity Reds squad, all 23 players on the championship lineup played major junior hockey, and 19 of those wore the captain’s ‘C’ or were assistant captains on their respective junior teams.
All except one player has attended an NHL training camp. Boland was at the Winnipeg Jets’ rookie camp in 2017.
“The (U Sports and Atlantic University Sport conference) league doesn’t really get the recognition it deserves,” Boland said. “There’s only three games televised nationally (the U Sports national semifinals and final).
“When I was recruited here,” he said, following a four-year career with the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic, which included a league championship in 2015, “what was said to me was just because it’s university, it doesn’t mean your hockey is over.
“There’s still lots to play for.”
Boland and the other Canadian university players can only look towards Like Philp, the latest college player to sign a pro contract. Philp, signed by the Calgary Flames, played against UNB for the University of Alberta.
Flames general manager Brad Treliving was in the rink in Lethbridge, Alta. for the championship final.
Also this week, Chris Clapperton of the Varsity Reds signed an AHL deal with the Binghamton Senators.
Boland dipped his toe in the pro waters at the Jets’ camp a couple of years ago, and hopes another professional opportunity will come along once he’s completed his kinesiology degree in Fredericton, N.B.
“There are a lot of doors opening for Canadian university players,” he said. “A lot of pro teams are starting to look in that direction.
“The university guys are a bit more mature, and you never know what those two, three or four years can do for the development of a hockey player.”
While it seems like every second Canadian hockey player wishes to land an NCAA athletic scholarship if major junior is ruled out, the fact is players like Boland will owe little or no money once their education is complete.
That’s because they’re capitalizing on their Canadian Hockey League scholarship money, not to mention bursaries or scholarships the university can offer.
“It’s funny how it goes, Boland said. “You play hockey your whole life and now you kind of get set up in life, with the foundation of an education, through hockey.
“And even when you’re getting an education, you’re still playing at a high level that most don’t get to compete at.”